February 16, 2009

Saner heads

His beak can hold more than his belly can.Several years ago I judged a band competition in Ontario and was faced with a situation that most adjudicators dread. In fact, it was the first contest in which I was on ensemble, having gone through the accreditation process the previous spring.

It was the Grade 1 competition, which consisted of three bands. All of the bands played well. It was a medley event, and Ontario rules state that bands must submit two selections, and draw at the line with the ensemble judge present for the one they should play.

One of the bands came to the line, clearly wanting to get on with it because it was a scorching day. The pipe-major reached into the bag, and pulled out the #1 chip. In Ontario, the content of the selections is printed on each score sheet, the tunes being provided by the band with its entry. But because of a database glitch, the selections were reversed on the score sheet for each band, so the one that the band thought is #1 was printed as #2, however bands were made aware of the issue. So, the content of the #1 selection was really printed on the score sheet as the #2 entry. In essence, a band drawing #1 would have to play #2.

As the ensemble judge, I reminded each pipe-major at the line of that discrepancy. But this one band’s pipe-major was clearly in a hurry, and turned to start his group without realizing the reversal and that I was pointing out the other medley on the score sheet. Strictly speaking, the band played the wrong selection and thus a rule was broken . . . sort of.

Immediately after the band played, the judges got together, and we discovered that we all had noticed the band’s “error.” What to do?

We quickly agreed that we would go ahead and judge the entire contest as we would if there were no problem. We also agreed that, after that, we would alert the head of the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario about what occurred, since, ultimately, any penalty would be an Executive decision.

As judges, we made a recommendation to the President, which was to tell all of the bands what had happened, and allow the competitors to decide what they’d prefer to do. If the band at fault wanted to give up its prize, then they could do that; if the other two bands preferred not to move up a place for such a shallow reason (a move that we thought was likely), then that was fine, too. But it had the potential to be an ungodly embarrassment for everyone involved. Was it really worth it?

To my surprise at the time, the PPBSO president decided not to do anything. He was willing to let sleeping dogs lie, feeling that, even though a rule was broken, it made little sense to us to crack down on it. It just wasn’t worth the certain ill will. The band that made the mistake didn’t appear to do it intentionally. The PPBSO was also at least partly to blame because of the database problem, swapping the medleys on the score sheets.

I’m reminded of that situation because of the current issue with the RSPBA’s “international” judges being suspended. Just like any organization, the RSPBA has a right to enforce its rules strictly. If the rule is that sample score sheets must be provided from a judge’s home association, then so be it.

But, like the situation I described above, is it worth it? Ultimately, does it make sense to doggedly follow a rule that was broken due to any number of faults – chief among them, perhaps, resting with the association itself? Yes, an organization’s role is to enforce the rules, but leadership’s role is to determine when exceptions are warranted.

Some will no doubt feel that the band should have been disqualified, just as some will think that the RSPBA did the right thing. But I learned from that awkward circumstance at that competition that, every so often, punishing people for breaking a rule can in the broader scheme of things do more harm than good.

Sometimes, those who suffer the most when rules are rigidly enforced are the competitors and the art, and it’s better to quietly sort things out behind the scenes and just get on with it for the good of all concerned.


  1. This is a case of picking your battles, and picking battles worth fighting. Since the band appeared to have not intentionally broken the rule, I’d agree with the decision made. It would have been a different story if the band had come to the line with only one medley; I think that should be a clear disqualification.

  2. I don’t think this bands analogy stands up regarding the RSPBA versus 6 “international” judges. To start with, a couple are registered on the Scottish panel and their sheets are already there and accessible.

    From a very, very good source, it seems that all 6 are in the clear and that the RSPBA is yet to even acknowledge it’s mistake. There is clear evidence to suggest that certain correspondence did not get sent when certain people from the RSPBA allege it was. Now these highly credible and respected judges are being left out in the cold as the face-saving plan rolls into action.

    I hope the P&D disclaimer will permit this post to remain….?

  3. Didn’t a similar situation happen at the World’s or another major in 2008, with (I believe) The Vale drawing/playing the “wrong” MSR or something like that?

  4. Steve – that was an error on the part of the Vale. The version I heard was that they had changed tunes around in their MSR and submitted the tunes from the previous years sets. An honest error, but unquestionably their responsibility.

  5. In the PPBSO example above there was a datbase error. So that was an error at the Association. At the point of being told which selection the band was to play, I assume a PM has a huge amount going on in his/her head, not least the first few notes of each medley, never mind heat and everything else. So the last thing they need is information that 1 actually means 2. Sounds as if it worked out ok, in the event, but hopefully the Association made/will make sure such an error won’t happen again. And judging by what we hear and read (at least from a distance) the PPBSO seems to be doing great things, seems to be forward-looking, and sounds like a welcoming organisation with piping and drumming at its heart. I wonder if that’s how it seems to people in the area – but that’s certainly the impression I get of it.

    The RSPBA doesn’t seem to learn from mistakes, or listen to ‘the people’ it serves. So when one thinks of the organisation, one thinks of a small group of people closetted round a table, with the door shut. Piping and Drumming seems to be away out on the periphery somewhere. At least that’s the impression it is giving. All of which is a great shame, because my experience of doing the Elementary Certificate there was a very good one – the Headquarters building was open and welcoming on those Sunday mornings, and the input from Annie Grant and James Wark first class. We didn’t come across any of the ‘officials’ but I must say Robert, the janitor, could not have done more for us, nor been more welcoming or helpful. On a day when roads were closed by snow, but I’d got through by following a snow plough, only to discover no-one else had, so I’d to turn and head for home- Robert waited at the Headquarters till I rang him to say I was safely home, a good hour and a half later. Now THAT gave the impression of an organisation that cared, that went out of its way for Piping and Drumming. What a shame the officials of the organisation can’t adopt more of that attitude, and put itself out a little for the greater good of piping and drumming.

  6. Andrew, you and your compatriots invoked the ethical principle of Epikeia, a point of view dating to the ancient Greeks, where a Law can be bipassed/ignored if the action serves the greater good.


    As you can imagine this is historically quite controversial. Obviously legal absolutists would argue against you…but also notable philosophers such as St. Augustine.


  7. Good question – money as always, Andrew B, you provocative imp. As an HR guy, we’re often in the position of deciding at work whether “rules” were applied, whether fairly or consistently, whether they should be applied at all, in what cases are exceptions warranted, etc. etc. And of course, we’re well loved, kind of like the RSPBA 🙂 So this hits close to home. Two words: discernment and judgment. Clearly in the PPBSO example (clear to me anyway), the decision of what to do rested with the Society, so glad the judges turned it over to them. Bravo that the judges decided not to act as administrators, and just judged the contest. The decision itself? Boy, I could really go either way. This one’s a bit of a comedy of errors…
    The biggest factor to me in both the PPBSO and RSPBA cases is the degree to which the organization did or didn’t contribute to the “error state”. I put a bigger burden on the “organization” than the individual/band, b/c the org makes and enforces the rules. So in the RSPBA case, to me it all depends on the facts – was correspondence sent, was it timely, are they enforcing this standard/requirement with everyone or just some people, did they overlook this in the past and are now enforcing it, etcetc…? Dunno – but knowing those things would allow me to apply a little discernment and judgment to the issue to render a considered opinion. What I’ve heard/read to date I take as hearsay, so offer no opinion other than what I’ve already posted (SET MY PEOPLE FREE! I WANT TO SEE DINSDALE AND WORRALL JUDGING IN SCOTLAND!)
    Good post, Andrew.

  8. I am glad in the case of this particular incident, Andrew B, , that the human capacity to think things through prevailed. So should it be in all things piping and drumming, where zero tolerance should always take a back seat to good judgement.




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